The Last Summer fails to accurately portray the teenage experience

Why the new Netflix film doesn’t deserve to be called a coming-of-age story

The Last Summer doesn’t live up to Netflix’s high standards for teen movies.

Early in May, Netflix gave us The Last Summer, the platform’s newest star-studded teen rom-com. In the wake of last year’s successful Netflix originals, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth, this film had the chance to be the next iconic film for hopeless romantics. Instead, it missed the mark by miles. 

The Last Summer follows a large group of recent high school graduates as they navigate the months before they begin college. The film was shot in Chicago with a strong ensemble cast, featuring Maia Mitchell, Tyler Posey, and Riverdale star KJ Apa. With its beautiful actors and stunning cinematography, the movie was a visual treat. Unfortunately, what it lacked was strong writing to match.

I started the film excited to watch a sappy coming-of-age movie filled with adversity and romance. Instead, I got a chaotically large cast, unrealistic problems, and cringe-worthy dialogue.

When contrasted with masterpieces like Netflix’s recent series Sex Education­—which humorously, but accurately portrays teenage life—it’s hard to imagine that anyone involved in creating The Last Summer has actually met a teenager.

The film focuses on the burgeoning romance between Griffin (KJ Apa) and Phoebe (Maia Mitchell). Griffin, an all-American boy recently out of boarding school, can’t decide between pursuing a career in music and attending an Ivy League business school. While grappling with his own future, he quickly falls for the serious and driven Phoebe when she interviews him for her documentary about students leaving home for college.

While Griffin wants to spend the summer dating Phoebe, she rejects his advances to focus on her film. To win her over, he offers to help her with the audio recording, as he’s soon revealed to be a tech-savvy audio engineer.

The storyline ends up offering a startling lack of insight into relationships between class-divided people when Phoebe reveals she’s making the film to win contest money so she can afford college. Griffin doesn’t respect her wishes and spends the summer distracting her from her work instead.

All the while, the couple’s dialogue and text conversations seem to be written by adults who’ve spent less than a minute browsing Instagram before attempting to imitate teenage behaviour. Griffin is portrayed as enlightened, as he bashes the concept of Snapchat streaks. According to this film, teens shorten the word “good” to “gd,” and you’re destined to face years of social exclusion for liking the popular and generation-defining Harry Potter book series.

With a dizzyingly large number of cast members, the film jumps from one underdeveloped plot to the next, trying to accurately explore teen relationships, summer jobs, and college applications—but failing to do so. At points, the film offers real perspectives on the contemporary coming-of-age experience, but for the most part, it doesn’t say anything meaningful.

Although parts of the film follow characters who work manual labour to pay for school or navigate unpaid internships, most of the run time is devoted to shallow romantic relationships. The movie attempts to tackle various subplots, but has no clue what to do with them.

The Last Summer doesn’t flesh out any story beyond the romance between Griffin and Phoebe. While it half-heartedly attempts to tackle real issues such as post-high school doubt and the difficulties low-income students face, the other plots are relegated to the background.

The multiple narratives allude to the format of the popular classic, Love Actually, without delivering a similarly cohesive product. The only thing connecting the plots is the Chicago setting and the vague promise of a coming-of-age story for the modern teen. 

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